Russians Reveal Hoard of 46,000 Art Treasures Stolen by Nazis

Bloomberg 7 February 2008

By John Varoli

Russia's government has revealed details of 46,000 artworks missing after Nazi looting.

A new Internet database will help scholars, law enforcement agencies and the art market locate cultural treasures, said the government's Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography.

A Web site, , is in Russian with printed editions in English. Thirteen volumes have the 46,000 artworks from 13 museums, and another volume lists 3,541 rare books, manuscripts and letters. There are nearly 1.1 million archive files also missing.

The Nazis invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. By the war's end in May 1945, much of the European part of the country was laid waste. An estimated 423 Soviet museums were damaged by the Nazis, of which 158 were in the Russian republic. The Nazis employed art brigades to systematically loot museums and ship the works to Germany. While officials said it's possible that missing items were destroyed, they are still hopeful of their return.

``We would like to believe that our artworks will soon return home to their rightful places in our museums,'' said Lidia Romashkova, deputy director of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. ``There are quite a few incidences when artworks previously thought lost suddenly surfaced.''

Anatoly Vilkov, deputy director of the Russian government's cultural watchdog, Rosokhran-Kultura, said he has evidence that some missing works are in private collections in Europe, most of all in Germany, and the United States.

Lost Works

Palace museums in the St. Petersburg suburbs were hit hardest during the war. The Tsarskoe Selo Estate Museum, home to the luxurious Catherine Palace, reported 13,216 artworks missing; Pavlovsk Estate Museum said 7,306 items were taken; Peterhof Estate Museum reported 2,219 objects lost; and at the Gatchina Estate Museum, 9,185 pieces vanished.

The Tretyakov Gallery had 37 paintings still unaccounted for. Though the Germans never entered Moscow, 38 Tretyakov artworks were originally lost because they were loaned in the 1930s to Soviet embassies in Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. The artworks disappeared when war broke out.

Among the missing Tretyakov works are some of its finest, including ``Blind Poor People at a Market in Ukraine,'' by Vladimir Makovsky, ``Pine Trees Above the Gorge,'' by Ivan Shishkin, and ``Turbulent Seas'' by Ivan Aivazovsky. Paintings by these classical 19th century artists range from $500,000 to $3 million at auction.

Returned Painting

In October 2006, one missing Tretyakov painting, ``The Vilchik Hills at Dusk in the Middle of September'' (1896) by Alexander Borisov, was recovered. Moscow collector Konstantin Zhuromsky realized the origin of this work in his collection and returned it to the Tretyakov without compensation.

The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg listed 107 items missing. In June 1941, the museum loaned 183 paintings and drawings to the Alupka Palace Museum in Crimea on the Black Sea. When the Nazis reached the Crimea in late 1941 they removed 155 artworks and sent them to Germany. Only 48 artworks were recovered after the war.

American cosmetics billionaire and art collector Ronald Lauder returned one painting, ``Portrait of Pyotr Basin'' (1829) by Orest Kiprensky, to the Russian Museum in 1998 at ceremonies marking its 100th anniversary. Lauder purchased the work in 1996 at Christie's Mauerbach Benefit Sale for Austria's Jewish community. When Russian officials approached Lauder with evidence of the painting's provenance he returned it without compensation.

`Trophy Art'

At the end of World War II victorious Soviet troops looted German, Austrian, Polish, and Hungarian museums, churches, libraries, and other cultural institutions. The Soviet government returned much of this so-called trophy art from 1955 to 1960, including the Pergamon Altar, now in the Permagon Museum in Berlin. Russia still has an undisclosed amount of works and refuses to return the items, citing a 1998 law.

Rosokhran-Kultura said that 250,000 artworks looted from Germany are now in the Hermitage Museum, the State Historical Museum, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and the Nizhny Novogorod Art Museum.

The Russian government continues to keep uncounted trophy art at many other locations, including the Museum of Religion in St. Petersburg, and the Museum of Decorative Arts at the St. Petersburg Art and Industry Academy.

Vilkov said this is ``compensation'' for Russian losses.
© website copyright Central Registry 2024